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If you like Ralph Nader's story, you might also like:
David Boies,
Willie Brown,
Millard Fuller,
Ruth Bader Ginsburg,
Rudolph Giuliani,
David Halberstam,
Wendy Kopp,
Mario Molina,
Barry Scheck,
Anthony Romero,
John Sexton,
Antonio Villaraigosa,
Mike Wallace and
Bob Woodward

Ralph Nader can also be seen and heard in our Podcast Center

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Ralph Nader in the Achievement Curriculum area:
Social Advocacy

Ralph Nader's recommended reading: The Jungle

Ralph Nader also appears in the video:
President George Bush: Lessons of Leadership

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Ralph Nader in the Achievement Curriculum section:
Advocacy & Citizenship
Justice & Citizenship
The Democratic Process

Related Links:
Public Citizen

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Ralph Nader
Ralph Nader
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Ralph Nader Interview (page: 5 / 7)

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  Ralph Nader

How would you define citizenship? What is a good citizen in America?

Ralph Nader: A good citizen is not just a person who votes all the time. A good citizen works between elections to take on an injustice, or participate in a local, state, or national institutions. Whether it's the schools, or the town meetings, or whether it's a national citizen group to reform government or improve the campaign finance mess -- there are roles for citizens.

[ Key to Success ] The American Dream

It involves time and talent, determination, resiliency, the ability to communicate and to say to one and all:

The Constitution is not just a parchment to be saluted on the Fourth of July. It's a document that gives you living rights and responsibilities which we should take hold of. Because democracy is like a coral reef; it's built up little by little by little. You look at it, and it looks so beautiful, but the reverse is true, too. It deteriorates little by little. When you don't stand up to someone who is abridging your rights, when you don't report someone who is violating the norms or the laws of the community -- and I'm not just talking about burglaries or vandalism, I'm talking about someone who basically coerces people against their Constitutional rights -- if you don't do that, next time, more of these misbehaving people are going to say, "We can get away with it. We got away with it last month, we can move even deeper into eroding people's rights." So it's important for young people to grow up learning their rights because if you don't know your rights, how are you going to use your rights? As my parents said, "If you don't use your rights, you are eventually going to lose your rights."

[ Key to Success ] The American Dream

Who else has been important in your life? Do you have any heroes or role models, in addition to your parents and family?

Ralph Nader: Some good professors in college. An anthropology professor and a political science professor who really were very stimulating, opened up a lot of windows for me and my classmates. But I think there are historical people: Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Abraham Lincoln, George Mason. These were people who I found very wise. And in college, the man I was really most impressed with in the 20th century was Alfred North Whitehead, the British mathematician and philosopher. Not to mention Lincoln Steffens and the muckrakers, which were my cup of tea.

What are the frustrations? What have been your disappointments?

Ralph Nader Interview Photo
Ralph Nader: A lot of disappointments. But you don't want them to gain a further victory by weakening your will to persist and to respond and to become even a more skilled citizen. Disappointments: we should have had airbags in cars 18 years ago. Just think of all the Americans who'd be alive today, or all the people who would not be in wheelchairs, all the anguish prevented, not to mention the economic costs. It took us 20 years to get the airbags now coming in cars as standard equipment. By the mid-90s they should be as expected as apple pie.

I wasn't prepared for such a deterioration in both the congressional and executive branches of government. Things are a lot worse now in Washington than they were ten, twenty, thirty years ago. The giveaways of the people's assets -- the federal lands, the minerals, the R&D that the tax payers paid for -- is bigger than ever. Corruption is bigger. Money in campaigns is more influential in what Congress does or doesn't do. And I've seen more and more that the federal government can really be lawless with impunity. The president can refuse to spend funds that he's supposed to spend by congressional authority. They can engage in foreign adventures, they can violate people's civil liberties, they can refuse to enforce safety laws, and nothing happens. Because the way the laws are written, they authorize the government to do the right thing, but they don't give people in the country the power to make them do the right thing under the law. If you file suit, the judges have a doctrine that says, "No standing to sue." "Who are you, taxpayer or citizen? You can't challenge the government," and the doors close. It often takes money to challenge the government.

So, I am seeing more and more institutionalized lawlessness, where about the only bounds on government behavior is public relations. The more they think they can fool the people and get away with it, even those boundaries are limited. And, if the press is concentrated in a few media conglomerates, and there is not much diversity and they have a cushy relationship with their government officials because the government officials will give them stories from time to time, then another boundary against government lawlessness deteriorates. We have got a great future if we wake up to it in this country. And, anybody who starts out in this country who thinks that they can't be a leader ought to think again. There has never been a greater demand for leadership, in all areas: media, education, churches, government, business, you name it. There is no long waiting list to be a leader in this country.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

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This page last revised on Sep 23, 2010 19:21 EST
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